“विद्वत्त्वं च नृपत्वं च नैव तुल्यं कदाचन ।
स्वदेशे पूज्यते राजा विद्वान् सर्वत्र पूज्यते ॥”
This Sanskrit shloka translates to, “a scholar and king are never comparable. A king is worshipped in his country, but a scholar is worshipped everywhere.” The great Chanakya explains the value of education and its importance in people’s life. Being well-educated person is often considered at a superior level than even being the most powerful person in the world.
From ancient times, India had been a dynamic education sector in the field of science, arts, and commerce. In the Gurukul system, it was believed that teachers were next to god. However, in today’s India, the whole system of education has turned into a big money scam.
Is our education system truly sterling quality?
Even with impeccable advancement in science and technology, we still lack basic education facilities on ground zero. Several schools and colleges in India are just running for the sake of mark sheets and degrees. It would be harsh to say but, one can’t deny that our education sector is turning into a negative elixir. It’s high time we introduce a structured paradigm to bring out possible reforms in education models.
The real question is, what do we need? How are we going to improve? To understand that issue, we need to understand the problem at the ground level.
Children have little understanding of basic math and science concepts. They memorize and reproduce but do not internalize or understand what they have learned. They are not able to apply basic concepts to day to day tasks, whether at school or at home. The biggest tragedy of all – children do not develop fluency in any language, be it their mother tongue or English. Employers complain about skill shortages, poor quality of workers and low productivity due to poor schooling. There is something very seriously wrong in education. We have not done things right not just in government schools, but in private schools too.
Pupil teacher ratio can be as high as 1:60, when it shouldn’t be more than 1:30. Teachers come to school, but sometimes do not teach. Middle-class parents deal with this by teaching their kids themselves at home. But what can parents from poor, semi-literate communities do? Whatever inequality they come with into the school system, the intensity only increases.
Rote learning is another issue. Teachers are expected to finish the syllabus in a short time, and so they force children to resort to rote learning. RTE’s No Detention Policy is being interpreted as No Assessment Policy up to Class VIII. Teachers are overloaded with inane administrative tasks. Even with something like the CCE, they spend their time filling forms rather than teaching or evaluating children. Testing and assessments only test the memory of the child.
What should get tested is what gets learned and how it gets tested determines how it is learned. Teaching for tests is common, but it is assessment systems that are becoming corrupt.
Poland had many of the problems we have today, with their Soviet-era inefficient schooling system. But from 1999-2006, they initiated reforms and turned the system around. What did they do?
They made sure teachers had much more autonomy and freedom in the school. The teachers and schools were told they had to bring children up to a particular level by Class 8. The syllabus was decided by the government in terms of what would be the minimum learning requirement. Teachers had a lot of freedom and autonomy to do what they wanted and how they wanted to do it. Instead of following orders from above, they actually had to innovate and figure out how best to teach their children. Each school was actually a practising laboratory.
They put in place qualification requirements for teachers and these qualifications were linked to a promotion path. The government provided continuing education opportunities. Only with political will do things get done. It is crucial to move from inputs, infrastructure and qualifications on paper to the actual functioning of the school system. Only then will the monitoring of the education system change.
In the name of reform, accreditation, and quality assurance, we have done exactly the opposite. We must shut down all the teacher training colleges of poor quality and set up good quality teacher training colleges in parallel. Introduce centralized assessments. In India, the education community is almost allergic to centralized assessments. The aim of centralized assessments are not an assessment of the children, it is to assess the quality of the school or the average levels of learning of children.
Most countries around the world have used a combination of tremendous school autonomy, where teachers can do what they want, how they want and combine it with some kind of centralized testing which becomes a quality benchmark. I don’t know what that centralized quality test in India should be. But, I do know the only way to bring about change is by altering the rules and the behaviour of the personnel who are in the system.
We have to have a system of humane as well as strict checking. The two have to go together. We need a mechanism to test what children are learning, how much they are learning and whether the learning is taking place across all children or not. These are just a drop of tiny suggestions into an ocean of problems. I’m sure things will change and that also very soon.